Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Move over Auntie Ann's, there's a new pretzel maker in town

Last week R and I tried our hand at making homemade pretzels. The results were so tasty, I had to share the recipe. With just a touch of pre-planning, it was so much easier than I expected. If I can do it, anyone can.

Yes-You-Can's (get it?) Soft Pretzels

1 c water (105-115 degrees--just do it by "feel"--hot, but not scalding water from the tap)
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 t)
2 c white flour
3/4 c whole wheat flour (or just use white)
2 T butter, softened
1/2 t salt
1 T sugar
Boiling Solution:
4 c water
5 t baking soda
kosher salt for sprinkling

If you have a stand mixer or food processor, mix the water and yeast together and let stand for 5 minutes. While the yeast is dissolving, mix the 4 cups of water and baking soda together in a small sauce pan on the stove for later.

Once the yeast is dissolved, add 2 cups of flour, soft butter, salt and sugar and mix for 2-3 minutes. Add additional 3/4 c flour and knead for 1 minute.

Touch the dough. Is it sticky? Add a little more flour until the dough is moist but does not stick to your fingers. Place the dough in a bowl, spray the inside of the bowl with some cooking spray and cover to let rise.

(*I did the dough the night before we made the pretzels. After the dough rose, I wrapped it and placed it in the refrigerator for the night. Then, in the morning I took it out to rise again. This gives it extra flavor and allows you to have the dough ready to go for your little one to help.*)

Once the dough has risen, punch the dough down and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a 18 inch length, and twist to make into a pretzel shape, or get creative and do whatever shape you would like. Place on a floured plate while you make the other shapes.

Once all the pretzels are formed, cover and let them rise for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the water and baking soda mixture to a boil to prep for dunking. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Once the pretzels have risen again, dunk each in the boiling mixture for about 30 seconds, before placing them on a baking sheet and sprinkling each with kosher salt.

Bake until crispy and golden, about 12 minutes. Yum, yum!

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Get well, get well soon, we want you to get well..."

Do you remember the episode of "Seinfeld," where Elaine's office celebrates every event with a cake, even someone who is sick? Instead of singing, "Happy Birthday," they sing the little ditty in the title line for today's post.Phew, it has been a long 3-4 days for this sweet pea chef, er, nurse. My husband started not feeling well Wednesday and by Friday he was so miserable he let me take him to Urgent Care. He *never* goes to the doctor when he is sick and he is not the typical "woe-is-me-when-I-am-not-feeling-well" male. Usually, he takes some Advil and toughs it out. Come to find out, he has the flu.

Then Saturday morning R was unusually lethargic until Sunday afternoon when, concerned about his fever and extreme sleepiness, I called our pediatrician at home. Of course, once I called her, R started acting a bit more normal but he still wasn't himself this morning so I took him to see the pediatrician and he has the flu. All this despite getting the flu shot...what can you do?

All of this makes me realize A. how thankful I am to have a usually healthy husband and family, B. how gracious God is in giving us the strength to get through things if we lift our thoughts out of our circumstances and to His power, C. how wonderful it is that my husband will get better and this is not a permanent situation and D. how much I need some downtime myself.

This is when I would usually post my meals for the week, but seeing as though the only thing my husband has been eating since last week is toast, eggs, and a few other odds and ends, I am not cooking. I would love to hear about the lovely non-infirmary type food you all are eating this week.

Now if I can just stay healthy...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday Night Bites--Carnilupa or Chalitas?

A big shout out to Slacker Mama and Jenn for their Carnitas and Chalupa recipe suggestions. I took the two recipes, whirled them into one and got a coveted, "wow, this is outstanding!" from Sweet Pea Husband.

The whole family wolfed this one down. Enjoy!
Slow Cooker Carnilupa/Chalitas (aka Amazing Pork Tacos)

4-6 pound bone-in pork butt/shoulder
1 T olive oil
8 garlic cloves
2 onions
2 jalepenos
1 12 oz beer
1 t cumin
1 t oregano
1 t chili powder
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper

Score the fat side of the pork in a grid pattern, about 1/2 " deep. Heat a large fry pan on high and once hot, pour 1 T olive oil in the pan and place pork, fat side down to brown. Cook 4-5 minutes, flip and repeat. While the pork is cooking, slice the onions and jalepenos and put them in the bottom of your slow cooker.

Once the pork is seared on both sides, place the pork fat side up in the slow cooker on top of the onions and jalepenos. Gently insert the garlic cloves into the scored fat, pressing to make sure they stay inside. Sprinkle the top of the pork with the cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt and pepper and then pour the beer over the pork.

Cook on low for 10-12 hours, high 5-6 hours.

Once done, pull the pork out of the slow cooker and let cool for about 10 minutes. Shred the pork and serve in corn tortillas with your favorite toppings. We used pico de gallo, a little shredded cabbage, diced avocado, and fresh lime slices to sprinkle on top. But you can use whatever floats your boat!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Musings and Meals

I am ready for spring! Yesterday we had a 60 degree tease and today it is back to reality: 30s and cloudy. Since it is the end of winter and I think anyone (except maybe you lucky ducks in the nice weather!) could use a good laugh, I share with you some Monday laughter.

I don't often laugh out loud from forwarded emails, but I received an email that had "do's and don'ts" of baby care that made me do just that. Here are just a few of my favorites: I have thought about using the hose on more than one occasion!Sadly, while I haven't purposely given him a shoe to chew on, I have found G chewing on a sneaker once or twice. Lovely.

Now, the meals for the week:

Carnitas and Refried Beans
Not-so-Sloppy Joes with Coleslaw
Roasted Chicken with Asparagus and Potatoes
BBQ Chicken Pizza and Salad
Cheddar Corn Chowder

What's cooking on your end? (You all gave me great ideas last time I asked this question...)

Friday, February 15, 2008

FNB Parmesan Grits

Here's a super easy Friday Night Bites side dish. Tonight the SPs are having the Light Jambalaya I posted awhile back, but this time with Parmesan Grits. I can't thank my born-and-raised-in-the-South husband enough for introducing me to all the great southern fare he ate growing up. This recipe is one of my favorites!

Parmesan Grits

3 c water
3/4 c Quick Grits
1/4 -1/3 c grated parmesan cheese
1/2 t salt
1/4 t white pepper

Bring water to a boil and add grits. Bring back to a boil and then simmer, cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and stir to check consistency. Once grits are thick and a good consistency, remove from heat and add cheese, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

A quick message from my two Sweet Peas:(Update--Just picked R up at preschool. Almost every Valentine he got came with chocolate, candy, etc. I feel like a V day scrooge because I just did cards...is this how it is everywhere?)

Here is a recipe I made this week and remembered just how much I *love* it. I lightened an original to make it healthier and more heart healthy. My older sweet pea is actually eating salad lately and he likes this one a lot.

A great side for a big gathering, or for your family.

Napa Asian Slaw

1/3 c cider vinegar
¼ c sugar
2 T canola oil
2 T honey
2 T low-sodium soy sauce
1 T olive oil
¼ c slivered almonds
¼ c sunflower seeds
1 (5-ounce) package curly soba noodles (or use ramen, without flavor pack), crumbled
8-10 c shredded napa cabbage
1 bag of shredded carrots, roughly chopped
1 c thinly sliced shallot or scallion

Combine cider vinegar, sugar, oil, honey and soy sauce in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes and stir.

In a small sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add almonds, sunflower seeds, and noodles to toast, stirring constantly. Once you see the mixture turning golden, remove from heat.

In a very large bowl, add the cabbage, carrots and shallot. About 15-30 minutes before you are ready to serve the salad, toss the dressing and noodle/nut mixture with the cabbage.

Serves 12 (can easily be halved, but in our house, we end up eating it all)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Snow Day Cookie Making

With a nasty snow/freezing rain/ice storm hitting Columbus today, the schools are closed and Sweet Pea R is home from preschool. After a momentary thought of, "what will we do today!?" we decided on playing in the snow, followed by some hot chocolate and then making some Valentine's Day cookies.

Valentine's is my favorite holiday after the trifecta of Christmas-Easter-Thanksgiving. Something about being able to decorate with hearts everywhere and just being in a lovey-dovey state of mind makes me happy. I guess you could say I heart hearts.

So this morning R and I whipped up some sugar cookie dough and had a great time making some heart cookies.

For half, I used a simple icing recipe...pour about 1/4-1/2 cup of milk in a mixing bowl...add a teaspoon of vanilla...start adding confectioners sugar until the consistency is thick like creamy peanut butter...usually takes about 2-3 cups to reach the right consistency. We iced the cookies and then put on heart sprinkles.

For the other half, I used this Giada DeLaurentiis' recipe, using wild berry jam instead of orange marmalade. YUM!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Meals and Monday Musings--what goes around, comes around

First, our meals for the week:

*Homemade Chicken Tenders, Pureed Cauliflower, Green Bean Casserole
*Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Sauce (based loosely on this recipe, if I like my alterations, I will post it soon), Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Spinach Salad
*Baked Couscous and Sausage (also a big alteration of this recipe--will let you know what I think) with 3 Bean Salad
*Slow Cooker Light Jambalaya with Cheese Grits
*Chalupa or Carnitas (recipes for both are from last Monday's comments) for pork tacos

Now, Monday Musings...

My mom, who is no-where-near a potty mouth, had this pin on her apron when I was young-

I always sort of just accepted it and didn't really wonder why she wore it until I was older and she told me this story:

"When I was younger, I had a hard time not saying certain words in front of you. I knew it was an issue when we were at a restaurant and you dropped your french fries and you said, '$h!#' loud enough for people to hear. The button was to remind me to choose my words and say, 'rats' instead."

As I grew up and had Sweet Pea R, I realized that while I don't go around cussing like a sailor, occasionally I let an S-bomb or other choice word fall. So a couple years ago, I opened up gift box and my mom had wrapped up, you guessed it, the "Rats" button. Now I proudly wear it and count it as one of my most prized possessions.

Thanks Mom!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friday Night Bites Stir-fry

Slacker Mama, this one's for you! We ended up making this again this week so I could make sure I had the recipe right. It is a keeper.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Cashew Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
2 T flour
1/4 t salt and pepper
2 t sugar
3 T oyster sauce, divided use
2 T canola oil
1/2 c white wine
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 c cashews
1 small can of baby corn (if you can't find any, substitute whatever vegetable you like)
1 c of snow peas
1 c of broccoli florets

Mix the chicken, flour, salt, pepper and sugar together in a bowl and then toss in 2 T of the oyster sauce and let sit for 15 minutes.

Heat 2 T oil in a wok or large saute pan over high heat. Add the onions, garlic and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken and cashews and stir continuously. The mixture will be somewhat "thick" because of the flour. Once the chicken is fully cooked (about 5-6 minutes), add the wine, additional T of oyster sauce and vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are tender. Serve over brown rice.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Monday Musings...and Meals for the Week

"Mommy, what will happen to me when I get old?"

My four year old Sweet Pea posed this question to me as we were readying some paper goods for the recycling bin.

Since we had been talking about school earlier that day I replied, "Well, when you get older you will go to elementary school."

"No mommy. What will happen to me when I get *really* old?"

Again I answered him, "you may grow up and have a family and children, just like mommy and daddy."
"No mommy. What will happen to me when I get *really, really* old?"

Trying to figure out where he was going with this questioning I searched my head for a quick, appropriate, non-threatening answer. I quickly realized what he was getting at as I loaded the bin with some more old boxes we had broken down.

We had recently been to the local science museum and seen how "old" paper, plastics, glass and aluminum are broken down into small pellets and turned into new items. Hmm...not sure if I want to open a big can of worms this close to dinner time.

I decided to go with the simply brilliant response a seasoned mother once shared with me. She said whenever her children posed questions which, if answered, may be more than they (or she) could handle at the moment she would respond,

"What do you think will happen?"

Generally, on the limited occasions when I have had to ask this question, he gives a sweet 4-year-old, "I don't know!" response and then continues on with his day.

Issue closed...for now.

Switching gears--

Mondays I like to have an idea of the meals we will have for the week so I can get most, or preferably all, the food we need for the week.

Here are our Sweet Pea Meals for the week:
Cod with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers (R is on a *huge* olive kick lately)
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
Quesadillas and Taco Salad
Canadian Cheese Soup with Pumpernickel Croutons
Freezer Night (Generally Veggie Burgers or Leftovers)

What's cooking at your house?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Are you ready for some Fo..ndue?

The Super Bowl is tomorrow, so why not try some cheese fondue? This recipe is good for dipping bread and veggies. My Older Sweet Pea will eat just about anything dipped in cheese sauce, so it is a good way to sneak some vegetables into his belly.Easy Peasy Parmesan Cheese Fondue
1 1/2 c skim milk
2-8 oz packages of neuchatel (light cream cheese), cubed
1 c of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c grated swiss cheese
3/4 t of garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
bread and vegetables for dipping

In a sauce pan over medium heat, combine the milk and light cream cheese. Stir until the cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Reduce the heat to low and incorporate the remaining ingredients. Stir until well blended. Transfer to a fondue pot, small slow cooker, or a oven safe pan on a warmer tray. Serve with bread and vegetables.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Friday Night Bites--Celebrate the Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year! Celebrate the Year of the Rat (yikes!) with some very healthy, light, low-carb Chinese food. I altered a Cooking Light recipe to come up with this recipe below. For adults, serve it in lettuce cups. For kids, you can wrap in warm tortillas and call it a Chinese Burrito. Fusion Cuisine is where it's at so your kids will be food forward for sure.

Chinese New Year Dinner Wraps

1 t canola oil
t sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces cremini or "baby bella" mushrooms, minced
4 ounces shiitake mushroom, minced
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 pound ground meat (either 92% lean beef, turkey or chicken)
2 c shredded napa cabbage
1 c shredded carrots
1/4 t salt
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1 can diced water chestnuts, drained
3T hoisin sauce
3 T low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
Boston lettuce leaves

Heat oils in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium heat. Add garlic, mushrooms and onions. Cook until the onions begin to carmelize a bit and then add meat. Cook until the meat is completely cooked, stirring occasionally. Add cabbage, carrots, salt, red pepper, and water chestnuts. Cook until the cabbage and carrots are very soft and there is no remaining liquid in the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and hoison and soy sauce. Stir in cilantro if you are using it. Spoon about 1/4 c of the mixture into a lettuce leaf or tortilla. Serve immediately so the lettuce doesn't get too wilty.

For those of you who like things kicked-up, you may want to add some Thai Chili-Garlic sauce or extra hoisin sauce in each wrap. I kept the recipe fairly mild to appeal to our boys.

Happy New Year!

PS--to SM--I haven't forgotten about getting a good stir-fry recipe for you!